Monday, 19 March 2018

Instructions on Confidence

I'm Lydia, and you might know me from such Facebook posts as "I'm spiralling" and "I fell in a hole".

Outwardly I scream confidence, but inside?

Put it this way, I am what happens when you put armour on a jellyfish. My armour is my wit, my empathy, and my smile.

A warning to begin with; this blog jumps around a bit. It’s not linear because I’m not linear.

My parents have always raised me to be confident. There are numerous videos of me singing, dancing, holding court with my aunts and uncles, and generally being the centre of attention.

Little Confident Lydia
(Author's Own)

Before we go on, I must talk about privilege. I know that despite my brown face and femaleness, I am extremely privileged. I have a wonderfully middle-class life in Manchester with my wife and our two cats. I’m university educated with two degrees, and I’m in fulltime employment. This is how and why I am able to exude faux confidence when I'm depressed. It's a long learned skill.

When I was 10, a girl in my class decided to bully me.

What followed was 15 years of victimhood and my confidence was knocked at every turn. People who didn't like my confidence picked on me, chipping away at my armour.

In 2007, I started the long road back to some semblance of confident me. I applied to appear on How To Look Good Naked with Gok Wan. I was selected and went down to London, a few times a week, for 6 weeks to be pampered, preened and polished. They told me I was great. I needed to hear it.

The 6 weeks culminated in a nude photoshoot and a catwalk show at The Trafford Centre.
And then everything was ok!

Of course, I'm kidding! I was filled with pseudo-confidence, bravado. Despite the joy of doing How To Look Good Naked, I was plagued with the spectre of mental health. I am PROOF that you can be destroyed by mental health problems and STILL appear to be confident.

My depression started at around 15 years old when my parents moved away for work and I went to live with a family from church while I did my GCSEs. I was 15 so I thought I knew everything, but in reality, I had compartmentalised. I was being bullied, I was just discovering my sexuality, and I was, at times, not able to see my parents when they came to visit me.
Supporting Behind the Mask Mental Health Charity
(Author's Own)
The trickle of sadness started there and grew into a looming, snarling black dog over several years until medical intervention.

After the show, it took years to work out what confidence actually was. At this time I was still being bullied, by a so-called friend. I was taking months off work unable to get out of bed and I was miserable in my job. 

So how did I get it back?

Lesson #1

Make changes.

I left my job at the Council in 2008. It was a job that consisted of speaking to mostly vulnerable people to get them to pay their council tax arrears. It was a toxic environment where, again, I found myself bullied. I was also being micro-managed, belittled, and disciplined for just existing.

I think it was my brown face, queer haircut and outspoken desire for change within the department that she hated. But who knows?

So I went back to university! I did a teaching degree and took a break from myself.

Lesson #2

Find your passion.

Around the same time, I started working for Chorley FM (yes it's real) on their LGBT show. It was a revelation! I could talk to my heart's content, be politically engaged and outspoken, and play music, following in my dad's footsteps. From there I moved to Gaydio, did a spot on BBC Radio Manchester, and then joined the Gay Agenda team, guesting on a weekly radio show (now a lively podcast). 

When I'm presenting, or guesting, I am unashamedly outspoken and confident.

Lesson #3

It's OK to be someone else for a bit.

In 2010, a friend asked me to take part in a drag king competition. It wasn't my first foray into drag, but I hadn't done it in many years. I got through to the final and ended up leading the Pride Parade as Our Kelly, just behind Sir Ian McKellan. 

Since then I have done drag all over the country. I have performed at Pride festivals, hosted burlesque shows, and even have my own night "The Boi Zone". I'm never as confident as I am when I'm in drag behind a literal mask, and that's OK.

Lesson #4

Find confidence in the bad stuff.

It's easier to be confident when you're happy and healthy. But the place I found the most confidence was my depression. Coming out loud and proud about my depression and anxiety about my suicidal feelings and hopelessness, when to others it seemed like everything was great, helped immensely. 

When you tell people, they tell you and you find confidence in the sharing of those dark secrets.

Lesson #5

Be an imposter

Whatever I'm doing, I feel like I'm faking it. So I embrace that. I behave the way a competent person would. This is how I push myself forward, by just doing the thing I think I can't.

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